You may think that sponsoring a nonprofit organization is simple. Send a check and a logo and off you go, right?
However, to be effective, a lot more strategy needs to go into it than these two steps.
Recently the editor of a Florida business magazine interviewed me about this very topic. What does a business need to consider when sponsoring a nonprofit? A couple of my answers surprised her.
Three key junctures necessitate asking important questions about your sponsorship: before you approach a nonprofit, during your discussion and negotiation, and after the sponsorship execution concludes. The editor wondered about the first one, the phase before you approach a nonprofit.
“Wouldn’t the nonprofit be reaching out to the company?” she asked.
It’s easy to see why she’d think that. Too many nonprofits inundate corporations with generic and other low value “sponsorships” that are really donations. Why would a company initiate this type of arrangement?
However, if your corporation is going to be strategic about its support of nonprofits — via philanthropy and through sponsorship investments — you have to be intentional about your partnerships, not just accept any opportunity that comes along.
Corporations that only think sports when it comes to sponsorship (70 percent of all sponsorship dollars go to sports entities) are missing huge swaths of consumers. Plus they are competing with a lot of other sponsors. Plenty of excellent nonprofit organizations can be fantastic partners, and you’ll stand out from your competition.
Here are the essential questions I recommend considering at those three times:
Before you approach a nonprofit:
- What are you trying to accomplish through your sponsorship? Sponsorship is powerful marketing medium, and your business should be as purposeful with these dollars as any other marketing investment.
- Are you prepared to invest for the medium- to long-term? Sponsoring an event one time is a waste. If you’re serious about cultivating relationships with the audience of an ecosystem, plan to participate for at least three years (assuming an annual event) to build brand equity, participate meaningfully, and see results.
- What is the nature of your company’s mission that may be expressed through sponsorship? At the core of your brand is a powerful mission. When you tap that mission and participate more broadly in a community, you’ll allow authenticity to flourish.
- What is the return on mission (ROM) or return on investment (ROI) that you’re seeking to achieve? Be clear what your audience responds to and how you’ll know you’re successful.
During your discussions and negotiations:
- Will this organization be a good partner for your company? Not every nonprofit has the skills, mindset, staffing, and strategy to partner with the corporate sector. You’ll be able to tell by the quality of the relationship they build, the quality of their offering, and the whole approach. Trust your instincts.
- Are they offering creative ways for your organization to be involved? Good partners are innovative and purposeful in their approach, not just asking you for money. They should have your best interests at heart — and you theirs.
- Are your two organizations able to co-create the partnership so it is mutually meaningful? Be prepared to participate in the process. Your partner can never fully know enough about your business to recommend the ideal solution, and you will never fully know all the ways to be involved with the nonprofit. Have a dialogue, brainstorm, and strategize together.
- Are you prepared to invest additional resources to support the sponsorship and leverage it fully? Mobilize your team and take full advantage of the sponsorship so you see results.
- Will you more broadly engage your internal departments so that the sponsorship investment is shared among many? While you’re at it, mobilize the teams of other departments so they benefit, too, and the ROI or ROM is extended throughout the organization.
After the execution:
- What worked and what didn’t work? If you’ve planned well, your sponsorship most likely succeeded. However, you can always refine and adjust. Be honest and realistic so you can let go of what didn’t work and focus on what did.
- How can you improve the execution for next year? While everything is still fresh in your mind, decide how you’ll improve next year. Talk it over with your partner so together you can begin formulating ideas early.
Too many corporations send off a logo and a teeny check without fully participating in their nonprofit sponsorship investments. You wouldn’t take this approach for a sports sponsorship, so why do that here?
In a socially- and mission-driven era, your company’s support and sponsorship of nonprofit organizations can be powerful collaborations and important business drivers.